Speaker Rtn. Chris Bird -

Wed, Apr 24th 2024 at 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Chris gave a talk about his experiences on a Group Study Exchange. Speaker Finder Richard Bishop, Visitors Host, Grace & Banners Robert Allan, Cash Desk & Sergeant at Arms Ken Senior

Chris said that he had titled his talk as “Nuts” because according to the farce Charlie's Aunt Brazil is where nuts come from and his talk is about a Group Study Exchange trip that he made in the late 1970’s. So the talk could be sub-titled my introduction to Rotary.

If your cast your mind back 50 years to what you were doing in the Autumn of 1975 then there was Chris as a young professional having just been made a partner in the firm of solicitors where he worked. At the time he was a member of the Bradford Junior Chamber of Commerce as were several Blaize members currently in the room. At that time in one meeting Ronnie Farley announced that Bradford Rotary were looking for bodies to go on Group Study Exchange. The requirements for candidates were that they had to be male, under 35 years old, in an established profession and not have any personal or family connection with Rotary. Successful applicants would have to visit several local Rotary clubs on their return to tell about their experiences.

As he was single without commitments Chris decided to apply and was interviewed by a group of what felt like old men although looking around the room now they were perhaps not so old after all. One question they asked him was do you speak Spanish? He replied that other than being able to order a beer and meal no he couldn’t but was prepared to learn. One thing that didn’t dawn on him at the time and was obviously not apparent to the interview panel was that the language in Brazil is Portuguese. 

A couple of weeks later he received a letter to say that his application had been rejected but he had been put on the reserve list. A year later was asked to go as one of the chosen candidates had pulled out. Before he said yes, he had to get his fellow partners approval. Luckily, they said yes. That same lunchtime he already had organised a meeting with girlfriend to arrange a skiing trip. She agreed to him going and it didn’t affect their relationship as they are still married all these years later. 

He then had 20 weeks to prepare. The other candidates had had a year and 20 weeks to learn Portuguese, so Chris had crash course in the language. The leader of the group was a language teacher from Scunthorpe, but he was the only person in group who'd never been out of country before.

The air tickets were £650 each economy which was a lot of money in those days. They flew Leeds Bradford to Paris then by Varig to Rio de Janeiro and then had to take another 1,000-mile internal flight to Rio Grande Do Sul Porto Alegre which was the base for the trip. Half the time they were in hotels owned by Rotarians and the other half they were in Rotarians homes. 

Before leaving the UK the group had decided to take bottles of whisky as a thank you for their hosts. Chris remembers giving a half bottle of Bells to a very high-class Rotarian who was the British Consul. He graciously received it and placed it on the shelf with a large selection of fine malt scotches. 

In 28 days they visited 38 Rotary clubs, a District Conference, 36 businesses, 4 mayors, 4 universities, and 4 schools. By the end of which they were totally exhausted. During the visit alcohol played an important part of the visit unfortunately starting at 9:30 in the morning. On returning to the UK they gave 10 illustrated talks to Rotary clubs. 

He then showed various things that he had brought back. At the time he couldn't tell people much about the law in Brazil because it was a dictatorship so he couldn’t get information on the legal system.

One final memory was staying in a house a bit like a Swiss Chalet. One Rotarian brought 6 rather glamourous young ladies. He was introduced to one young lady with high skirt and low top but declined the offer.

He didn't join Rotary on his return. It was 6 years later in 1984 when he was invited to join Idle & Greengates. When that club closed down a couple of years ago he joined Shipley.

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